Since we last spoke to Charlotte Ager, the London-based illustrator has not slowed down, quite the opposite. On a perpetual quest to learn more and develop her practice, Charlotte tells us: “I still feel like I’m figuring a lot out,” explaining that she is trying to allow her imagination to run wild and free her discipline from her self-imposed restrictions. “I make a lot of rules in my head of what I can and cannot do and I’ve been trying to break those down,” Charlotte adds, as well as acknowledging and accepting that an individual can’t be a master of all. “I’ve also learnt what I’m not so good at, and to accept I can’t do everything but to not beat myself up about it,” showing a sense of contentment in her practice.
We can see that Charlotte has become more at ease with her work, and she tells us: “I’m not so worried about tying things together,” allowing herself to work in new, exciting ways completely different to how she worked before. In doing so, she’s “allowing processes to learn from each other.” The result is work that is beautiful, delicate and innately kind but immediately striking – it seems personal and almost confessional. The honesty and revelation of gentle feelings and sentiment behind every mark shows Charlotte’s investment in making unique work that is produced with passion; rich with life and personality.
Charlotte’s recent residency with Knust – stencil printers in Nijmegen, the Netherlands – was a chance for her to take a step back and consider her practice whilst creating her own stencil-printed book; taking the opportunity to revisit work whilst harmoniously developing a new craft. Having the platform to address her practice in a new light, she felt inspired when she left, telling us “I got to learn all about the process of printing, and it was magic to be there at all stages as the book came together.” She was given a lot of freedom during the residency, explaining that “the content of the book was completely up to me and I used it to draw together a collection of drawings and paintings I’d made really quickly on a trip where I’d been feeling very overwhelmed,” finding it a fun and cathartic process to “make some sense from the jumble that came out.”
This sense of being overwhelmed is something Charlotte recently addressed in Child of Galaxies, a new children’s book she illustrated, written by Blake Nuto and published by Flying Eye. Within her beautiful illustrations, Charlotte acknowledges fear, anxiety and uncertainty, something especially prominent in the current state of affairs, but doesn’t allow these feelings to “destroy our wonder in the world.” Charlotte explains: “it was wonderful to work on because the text is so poetic and deals with feelings of being overwhelmed which, in a children’s book, are a real privilege to depict.” Given a lot of freedom in designing each spread, Charlotte thrived on being able to “alter the mood throughout the book” due to Blake’s writing being “universal and not specific to characters and places.” Child of Galaxies has arrived at an appropriate time, with Charlotte’s illustrations alongside Blake’s eloquent script providing a welcome and joyful relief from the doom and gloom, without being ignorant to the latter. In the book’s optimism, it aims, not just to educate the children about the universe, but also the acceptance of thoughts and feelings within it – something we think adults can learn from too.
A continuous source of inspiration for Charlotte is found in literature, mostly enjoying books “based in reality but which slip into the fantastical,” giving the examples of The Passion by Jeanette Winterson and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. The act of reading and the books themselves continue to advance Charlotte’s practice “by pushing the poetry in the everyday in ways that make illustrations more like feelings than depictions.”
Charlotte also had the opportunity to work with Google Design. Creating a series of gifs, the project demonstrates the recent research the team had done in developing Soli, a motion-detecting chip. “It was rewarding to depict the humanity behind its product, though its outcome is digital,” Charlotte says. Her illustrations expand on Google’s research into “the nuances of human non-verbal interaction” and highlight them in quiet tableaus that find beauty in actions of daily life we give no consideration for. “It was also a bit slower than other editorial pieces, there was a lot more back and forth,” she explains, “so it felt like there was time to develop the illustrations and get the ideas to come across really well on each one.”
This is something very important that Charlotte looks for in the commissions she accepts, finding herself “drawn to work that has an emotional context,” adding “it’s not just depicting something but trying to get a certain feeling across.” This understanding has become fundamental to her work. Elaborating on the importance of illustration, Charlotte tells us: “The best illustrations, I think, hit you foremost with a wash of feeling, they create empathy and understanding.” In this respect, the responses Charlotte gets from people’s reactions to her work is what she finds most rewarding, telling us “I’m rarely confident when I finish working on a piece but hearing that it’s moved people in any way is still just the best feeling.” She finds satisfaction in the accessibility of the work she produces, providing a consistent feeling of joy and wonder but also anxiety, with the transient message of accepting these feelings, being stronger because of it, and being together in that endeavour.
In looking to what lies ahead, Charlotte shows gratitude for her position during the lockdown: “I’m very fortunate in that isolation hasn’t taken a huge effect on my daily schedule... only that I can’t go to my studio at the moment.” Taking advantage of working from home, Charlotte has found it has positively affected her mindset, explaining “I’m quite hard on myself to take advantage of my studio as much as possible but this has forced me to slow down.” Charlotte can now exercise in the morning without the pressing anxiety of getting to the studio for nine o’clock, as well as allowing herself breaks in her garden for reading when in a creative rut. “As for everyone, it’s a big mental confusion,” she tells us “it’s full of adjustments and worry and fear but I’m taking it a day at a time.”
“I’m just incredibly grateful to still be drawing every day and making a living,” Charlotte says, continuing to work on children’s books and hoping to make one for adults too, adding “it’s a strange idea that picture books should stop when you reach a certain age because they’re such a wonderful way to relate and share ideas.”
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.